Ancient Bharat
Mesolithic Culture

Geographical Distribution and Palaeo Environment-

The Mesolithic period succeeded the Upper Palaeolithic. The subsistence economy of this period continued to be based on hunting and gathering. There was a marked growth in human population as is attested by the significantly increased number of sites.

For example, in the case of rock shelters in central India while the Palaeolithic occupations occur only in a few shelters, evidence of Mesolithic culture occurs virtually in every one of the several thousand shelters either in the form of human habitation or paintings or both. Similarly, in the arid and semi-arid regions of western Rajasthan and Gujarat, which are extensively covered by sand dunes, Mesolithic artefacts are present virtually on every one of the thousands of dunes.

What is far more significant is that the first human colonization of the Ganga plains took place during this period as testified by the presence of more than two hundred archaeological sites in Allahabad, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, Mirzapur and Varanasi districts of Uttar Pradesh (Sharma et al. 1980). Similarly, the effective colonization of the deltaic region of West Bengal (Lal 1958) and West Coast, particularly around Mumbai (Todd 1950) and in Kerala (Rajendran 1983), took place during this period (Misra 1997).

The explanation for this dramatic increase in human settlements clearly lies in the increased rainfall and its effect on the growth of plant and animal life at the beginning of the Holocene period. Evidence for significant increase in rainfall is provided by the pollen data from the salt lakes of western Rajasthan (Singh et al. 1974), deep weathering of sand dunes in Rajasthan and Gujarat (Misra 1978) and presence of wind blown black clay deposits in central Indian rock shelters (Allchin et al. 1978; Misra and Rajaguru 1986; Joshi 1978).

This led to the availability of increased food resources all over the country and thereby contributed to the growth of population.


The technology of the Mesolithic period is primarily based on microliths. These are tiny tools made from microblades of one to five cm length, by blunting one or more sides with steep retouch. The main tool types are backed blades, obliquely truncated blades, points, crescents, triangles and trapezes.

These microliths were used as components of spearheads, arrowheads, knives, sickles, harpoons and daggers. They were fitted into grooves in bone, wood and reed shafts and joined together by natural adhesives like gum and resin. Evidence for such hafting comes from later sites in India and from Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in the Near East, Africa and Europe (Misra 1974).

The use of bow and arrow for hunting became common in this period. Evidence for this comes from many rock paintings in central India (Wakankar and Brooks 1976; Neumayer 1983; Mathpal 1985). Small flake tools like side, end, round and thumbnail scrapers, and burins also form part of these industries.

Bifacial points made by pressure flaking are a characteristic feature of the Mesolithic industries of coastal dunes of southern Tamil Nadu (Zeuner and Allchin 1956) and Sri Lanka. Bored stones, which had already appeared during the Upper Palaeolithic and became common during Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, have also been found at a number of Mesolithic sites. These are believed to have been used as weights of digging sticks and as net sinkers. Similarly, shallow querns and grinding stones

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also occur at several sites. These new technological elements led to enhanced efficiency in hunting, collection and processing of wild plant foods (Misra 1976a). Heavy-duty tools like choppers and core scrapers are occasionally found at Mesolithic site in Orissa (Ota 1986; Mohanty 1988) and along the West Coast (Todd 1950).

Settlement Pattern and Disposal of the Dead-

Increased food security during this period led to reduction in nomadism and to seasonally sedentary settlement. This is reflected in the large size of Mesolithic sites, thickness of habitation deposit both in open-air and rock shelter sites, and the presence of large cemeteries, particularly in the Ganga plains.

The first evidence of intentional disposal of the dead comes from this period. Mesolithic human burials have been found at Bagor in Rajasthan (Misra 1973; Lukacs et al. 1982), Langhnaj in Gujarat (Sankalia and Karve 1949; Ehrhardt and Kennedy 1965), Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh (Misra 1976, 1997), and Lekhahia, Baghai Khor, Morhana Pahar (Varma 1986), Sarai-Nahar-Rai (G.R. Sharma 1973; Kennedy et al. 1986), Mahadaha (Sharma et al. 1980; Kennedy et al. 1992) and Damdama (Varma et al. 1985; Pal 1992) in Uttar Pradesh.

At the last three sites cemeteries containing many individuals have been found. The dead were buried in graves both in extended and crouched position. In some cases two individuals were buried in a single grave. The dead were occasionally provided with grave offerings, which include chunks of meat, grinding stones, stone, bone and antler ornaments, and pieces of haematite.


Another significant feature of the Mesolithic period is art, mostly in the form of paintings. Several thousand-rock shelters in the Vindhyan sandstone hills in central India contain enormous quantities of paintings on their walls, ceilings and in niches. They are found in both inhabited and uninhabited shelters. The paintings are made mostly in red and white pigments, which were produced from nodules found in rocks and earth.

Pieces of haematite with telltale ground surfaces showing their use for producing pigment have been found at Bhimbetka and other sites. The paintings mostly depict wild animals and hunting scenes, the latter by individual as well as groups of hunters. There are also scenes of fishing, plant food and honey collecting, and social and religious life.

The paintings throw a flood of light not only on the aesthetic sensibilities and artistic creativity of the Mesolithic people but also on their behaviour in respect of hunting and food gathering technology and techniques, dwellings, social and religious beliefs and activities, and contemporary fauna.


The Mesolithic period is very well dated by a large number of 14C dates from many sites in western and central India. These dates range from ca. 10,000 to 2,000 B.P. (Misra 1989). The hunting-gathering way of life was slowly supplanted by food production from about 6000 B. C.

However, even after several millennia of agriculture, hunting gathering, as a way of life has not disappeared and hundreds of communities all over the country, including in the vicinity of metropolitan cities, continue to subsist by this economic mode (Malhotra et al. 1983; Misra and Nagar 1994; Nagar and Misra 1989, 1990; 1993).

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